Canadian families are noticing their grocery bill increasing. Food banks are also seeing the effects as they are struggling to meet demands. The cost of food is only going to continue to rise due to inflation, climate change, and global political instability. Despite these rising costs, there are still ways for families to make healthy food choices on a budget.
Here are 10 tips:
Plan your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list based on what you need. It is estimated that Canadians waste 30-40% of the food they buy, so by meal planning you can avoid overspending and wasting food. That 30-40% of wasted food translates into about $28/week for a family of four. So by the end of the year you’d save over $1,400 simply by meal planning!
Meal kit companies deliver healthy fresh food right to your door. They take the stress of meal planning away and provide a variety of options to keep dinner interesting for everyone. The meals are perfectly portioned and well-balanced. These types of meals help with portion control and less waste because you get only what you need for that meal. The recipes are easy to follow, so it’s a great way to teach children how to cook.
Take advantage of sales and promotions at your local grocery store. Stock up on non-perishable items when they are on sale and buy in bulk to save money. The healthiest food items that have the longest shelf life include: dried beans and lentils, pasta, frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains including oats, barley and rice, and nuts and seeds.
Shop at your local farmer’s market or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This is a great way to get fresh, local, and seasonal produce at a fraction of the cost of buying it at the grocery store. Not to mention, you’ll be supporting your local farmers! Join a community garden if you have the opportunity. This is a great way to learn about gardening while getting some exercise and meeting new people.
Shop at ethnic stores. They typically have aisles full of spices, grains and pulses that are much cheaper than purchasing the same items at a mainstream grocery store. For example, a large jar of garlic powder costs approximately $4.29 at Walmart, but can be as low as $0.99 at an Indian grocery store.
Upcycle and Waste Less! Yes, food can be reused. Make soup from leftovers. That’s what most restaurants do. Think about getting creative with your leftovers. Most soup begins with a base of onion, garlic and celery. Then you add any assortment of leftover meats, legumes (beans), grains (barley), and veggies to the pot along with some broth and seasonings. Start with a recipe that might include the foods you’d like to use up and go from there. Or Google recipes using XYZ (your leftovers) to generate ideas. Most foods taste good together.
There are many ways to turn food scraps into something edible or useful. For example, you can make vegetable broth with your leftover veggie peelings and ends, or use overripe fruit to make smoothies or baked goods.
Don’t be afraid of the “ugly” produce. Just because a piece of fruit or veggie doesn’t look perfect, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious (and nutritious!). Stores often mark down “imperfect” produce, so you can save money and reduce food waste by buying these items. Fruits and veggies freeze really well. You can wash, chop and freeze and use in your next stir fry, soup or pasta, or toss frozen fruit into your oatmeal.
Buy short-dated breads and meat and freeze them. These items are often marked down because they are about to expire. You can either eat them right away or freeze them for later. Or cook them and freeze them in individual portions (e.g. cook a big batch of chili and freeze it in individual containers). When cooking, make extra and freeze the leftovers for another meal. This is a great way to save time and money – cook once, eat twice (or more)!
Specialty items like MCLEAN organic deli meats often go on sale because the shelf life is shorter than conventional products with nitrites. Freeze until you need them for that BLT or deli meat date night!
Make your own salad dressing! It’s easy, and it will taste better than anything you can buy at the store. Plus, you can control the amount of salt, sugar, and fat that goes into it. For example, you can avoid GMO canola oil and soybean oil, and instead use extra virgin olive oil.
Dressings and sauces are expensive and tend to use “cheaper” oil and ingredients, but are easy to make at home. Here’s a classic salad dressing you can make at home. In a small mason jar, combine : 3/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vinegar (balsamic, red wine, or apple cider) and/or lemon, 1 tsp. honey or maple syrup, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Add herbs if you like; dill, garlic, red pepper flakes etc. Shake well and pour over your salad. Keep refrigerated.
Make your own snacks! Homemade popcorn is a healthy and inexpensive snack. Try adding nutritional yeast to your popcorn for extra flavour and nutrients. There are awesome fun popcorn recipes online. Or, try making your own granola bars, fruit leathers, or energy balls.
Make your own nut mixes! This gives you control over the quality and you can choose the exact combo that you like. Store in an airtight mason jar! These are all great snacks to have on hand and they are much cheaper than buying pre-packaged ones.
Skip the pre-cut and pre-packaged fruits and vegetables. These items are almost always more expensive than if you were to buy them whole and cut them yourself. For example, a bag of pre-cut carrots can cost twice as much as a bag of whole carrots. The same goes for other fruits and vegetables like apples, potatoes, garlic and onions.
Packaged salad greens are also more expensive than a head of lettuce. Invest in a good salad spinner. Fresh lettuces are healthier and will last longer when properly stored. Pre-wash your lettuce in the salad spinner, and then place the spinner in the fridge. This will help keep the lettuce crisp longer, and it will be ready to eat the next day.
Try meatless Mondays! Eating less meat is not only healthier for you, but it’s also cheaper. A Canadian family of four spends an average of $146.49 on meat per week. That’s almost $600 a month! By cutting out meat one day a week, you could save over $25 a week, or $100 a month. Not to mention, it would be better for the environment.
Add more vegetables to your favourite recipes. For example, if you usually make spaghetti and meatballs, try adding grated zucchini or chopped mushrooms to the meatballs. You could also add extra vegetables to your favourite pasta sauce. There are plenty of delicious meatless recipes online – give them a try!
Consider meals like an Asian stir fry, where you use meat as a flavour enhancer and accent, rather than the main course.
Upgrade your eating for your health and the health of the planet, and save money, by extending meat.
So there you have it – 10 tips to help you eat healthy on a budget. Just because you’re watching your pennies doesn’t mean you have to skimp on healthy food. With a little bit of planning and creativity, you can make more with less.